Graphic by RPT, Rock M Nation
Tobacco Road has long since monopolized the basketball landscape as far as street-based geography in college basketball is concerned. In 2010-11, Interstate 70 seems ready for its own spotlight. Though bloggers from Rock M Nation (Missouri), Rock Chalk Talk (Kansas) and Bring On The Cats (Kansas State) may not agree on much, this much we do believe: Interstate 70 will be home to the strongest series of college basketball this season.
Below is the first of three roundtables to be hosted between these three sites aimed at discussing Interstate 70's place in the college basketball landscape. Make sure to stay tuned to Rock Chalk Talk and Bring On The Cats for future editions.
With Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri primed to make serious runs in 2010-11, let me ask two primary questions to get us started:
1) With three teams in the KenPom Top 10, can the I-70 Trio challenge Tobacco Road as the top region for college basketball in 2010-11?
2) Will I-70 Basketball get the attention it deserves?
1) Absolutely they can challenge, but it won't be easy. Duke is coming off a National Title and UNC will surely bounce back with Harrison Barnes on board. Having the defending champ and a freshman All-American battling it out on Tobacco Road will certainly make it tough to draw the east coast media eyes toward the midwest, but I think the trio of Kansas, K-State and Missouri can give it a run.
The fact is that the three teams on the I-70 corridor will play six times and all three are good enough to win the conference. It could be a situation where the three beat up on each other and a Baylor or Texas sneaks into the conference title, but it won't change the fact that there is going to be some great basketball played in Columbia, Lawrence and Manhattan. And in my opinion that only increases the chances for success in the tourney.
2) Hard telling. At this point it certainly seems that the three schools have received some attention, but then again a year ago Kansas v Kansas State was omitted from television in their regular season finale. My guess is that for fans in the area we won't feel like we're getting what we deserve and for fans out of the area, they won't care. Really all you can do is go out and continue to play at a high level. Kansas has done that and does receive the attention and with the way things are going I do anticipate Mike Anderson and Frank Martin being able to continue down that path.
We'll see though, sometimes I'm surprised by the media. The three definitely have three styles that are very different, and you're going to get three styles that are fun to watch in their own right and three programs that are now successful at that. Missouri plays up and down, they go as deep on the bench as anyone and the effort is typically off the charts. K-State is tough, physical and you're going to earn it against them. It might not be pretty but it's effective. And for Kansas it's a proven formula that wins better than anyone in conference play.
It's going to be a lot of fun and I think when all is said and done the regions profile is elevated, but maybe not as much as it deserves. I guess that's what happens when the ascent happens in a hurry.
1) Like you said, Owen, it's not easy but it's certainly plausible. This post and this series are in no way intended as a slight to UNC and Duke, no matter how much it would thrill our respective communities to try to knock them down a peg. Duke and UNC may carry the national prominence, but I'd argue that you're not going to see a more entertaining brand of basketball than the type you'll see in matchups between I-70 teams. Basketball doesn't get much more physical than the two games Missouri and Kansas State played a year ago, and no team in the last two years has been able to run straight at Missouri like Kansas has. Our resident historian Michael Atchison likes to steal the boxing cliché that style makes fights, and with these three schools, styles make incredible television. Ring the bell and let's do this.
2) Well, we know Kansas isn't going to be hurting for national attention. Jayhawk basketball has as much of an exposure problem as Michigan football. Kansas State appears to actually be getting the love it deserves in the preseason, and I think that may be the most promising sign of future exposure. The majority of folks will continue to sleep on Missouri, and to be fair, there's nothing wrong with that. There's a very real possibility that any of the three teams would be favored to win any conference outside of the ACC (Hi, Duke!) or the Big East. The strength of the Big 12 as a whole may be counterproductive to the aim of promoting the strength of I-70 Basketball, as the third-best of the trio could very well be lost in the Big 12 shuffle in the eyes of the powers that be.
1) Absolutely. The I-70 Shooters -- is that too "1950s sports journalism" for a blog post? -- are going to be as good as any local trio in the country. K-State is getting the preseason poll love, but in my estimation, everyone is sleeping on KU and Mizzou, if that's possible with teams that are ranked in the top 15. But KU, with or without Selby (and it sounds like it's going to be without for the foreseeable future), has talent at every position, and the Morris twins just get better with age. Missouri was really only missing a consistent front-court presence last year, and with Ricardo Ratliffe, that problem should be solved. Both teams are going to be beasts, and they have two of the most difficult courts to play on in the country. We all know about Allen Fieldhouse, and Mizzou Arena is, like Bramlage Coliseum, starting to earn a reputation as a place where road teams go to die.
It's the way it should be. In this part of the country, winters were made for intense games in loud arenas on cold nights.
2) Probably not, but you never know. This part of the country just doesn't bring the TV sets to get a network executive's blood pumping, but that may be changing. The K-State/KU game in Bramlage last year pulled the highest rating of any college basketball game in the regular season. In addition, Missouri has two decent TV markets that have no NBA affiliation and are presumably just dying for something worth watching in the interval between Chiefs/Rams football and Royals/Cardinals baseball (OK, not so much the Royals). If that kind of viewership continues with K-State and KU, and Missouri can capture the attention of the cities 120 miles to its west and east, ESPN and others will take notice. There's a lot of untapped potential here, and if all three teams can sustain a period of success, we could see significant change in college basketball's perception of this area.